Despite completing 20 deployments as a ShelterBox Response Team member, this was my first time to the Philippines. The eastern province of Albay gets more than its fair share of typhoons but was mostly spared from last November’s Super Typhoon Haiyan. In July this year the area was hit by Typhoon Glenda and, as usual, it was the poorest communities that were most affected. ShelterBox immediately sent in a rapid assessment team, followed by a volunteer Response Team from New Zealand and Japan.
As part of team 2, I joined 4 SRT members from the UK to continue detailed assessments and carry out distribution of ShelterBox aid. Having not deployed for nearly 18 months, this was my first time not distributing full ShelterBoxes, the reasons for which became immediately obvious. The damage caused by the typhoon was spread widely over a large geographical area but the damage was not absolute. Some homes were completely destroyed, others just partially damaged and others, miraculously untouched. We were bound to run into equity issues if some families received a full ShelterBox whilst others received nothing. After all, we were dealing with the poorest of the poor.
Our team worked closely with the Rotary Club of Legazpi, generous hosts who provided storage, transport, translators and volunteers to help us with our task. Together we worked with the ‘barangay captains’, community leaders with detailed local knowledge, to identify the most needy and decide the best aid package for them. In the past, a family living in a partially damaged house wouldn’t qualify for ShelterBox tent and we would not be able to help them. The addition of Shelter Kits (consisting of 2 large, high-grade tarpaulins and an extended tool kit with nails and fixings) to our repertoire meant the we could help these families get back on their feet. Lessons learnt from past deployments, particularly our response to Haiyan, has taught us the need for flexibility in our response, allowing us to help more families, whilst not wasting donors money on aid that is not required.
Splitting into 2 teams, we covered a lot of ground. The Province split into municipalities, municipalities in to districts, districts into baranagys. Some barangays had only 2 affected families, others, 40+. Aid was transported by truck, van, motorcycle taxi, ferry-boat and, in the remotest of areas, carried in on foot.
The people of the Philippines are a resilient bunch and meet their fate with calmness and good humour, I’ve rarely laughed so much on deployment and their warmth and generosity will stay with me. Beneficiaries were also very grateful to think that people they have never met, from all over the world, had donated money help them in their hour of need. As always, it was a privilege to deliver this aid on behalf of our donors and volunteers.
There were many moving moments on this deployment but perhaps one of the most poignant was a family we came across in the barangay of Balinad. The Madressa family home had blown down in the Typhoon, the remnants lay in a pile on the floor where their house once stood. Homeless and desperate, they sought shelter in the chicken coup used to house the poultry they looked after for a landlord. When we gave them a ShelterBox relief tent, Mr Madressa said,
‘Thank you so much, now we will feel like human beings again, and not chickens!’
We all laughed, but the point was lost on none of us.